The City Council laid the groundwork Monday for a work group charged with brainstorming ideas for forest preservation.
The group was formed in the midst of planning for two proposed residential developments along Forest Drive–Crystal Spring, a retirement community, and The Reserve at Quiet Waters, a 150-home project approved by the city earlier this year. Environmentalists in the area have opposed both projects, saying they encroach on the city’s forests.
Mayor Josh Cohen read from a letter drafted by the Department of Natural Resources, which noted deficiencies in the city’s policies for forest conservation, saying they did not match up with the state's Forest Conservation Act.
The changes Cohen proposed would have developers survey the forests they planned to build in and submit that survey to the city before their site plan could be reviewed. Separately, the work group would formulate ways to revise the city’s policies on forest conservation.
“I think we all want to find a way for advocates on both sides of the issue to shape recommendations to the City Council,” Cohen said.
The seven-member work group, chaired by former Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Manck, includes Alderman Sheila Finlayson, Alderman Ian Pfeiffer, Diane Butler, Kincey Potter, Elliot Powell and Chuck Walsh.
The group must meet and give its recommendation to the City Council within 90 days.
Alderman Russ Arnett (D-8th Ward), told Cohen he was grateful he wasn’t placed in the group, because he’d probably “go crazy.” Developers didn't want to be held up, and environmentalists didn't want the city to play ball with developers, he said.
“It feels like we’re in a no-win situation no matter what we do. Everybody will be unhappy,” Arnett said.
Environmentalists had problems with Cohen’s proposal before it was even presented on Monday. Many said the city was changing its policies on forest conservation before the work group held its first meeting.
“I think this policy inappropriately maximizes development and gives it priority over conserving priority forests,” said Earl Bradley, of Bay Forest Drive.
Ray Sullivan, of Meade Drive, asked the council why the sudden need to change policies.
“After all these years of ignoring the Forest Conservation Act, now there’s a rush to push this through? What’s the hurry?” Sullivan asked. “This is one of the most important decisions the city’s going to make in years.”
Anastasia Hopkinson, of Harbor Drive, presented a petition to the city with 100 signatures, with more being signed online each day at saveyourannapolisneck.com. The petition asks the mayor to halt all new developments until the forest conservation issues are resolved.
The vote to create the work group passed 5-4, with Aldermen Kenneth Kirby, Fred Paone, Classie Hoyle and Matthew Silverman voting no.
Kirby said he saw no need for a work group now, and questioned the timing of the creation of it. He asked where such a work group was when Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole was built, or the parking garage on Calvert Street, which he characterized as destroying a part of a community.
“A way of life was eradicated to make a parking garage on Calvert,” Kirby said. “That was a community. Who said anything? What group was formulated then?”
Kirby then said he feared developers would get the message that the city wasn't interested in doing business.
As for the two developments in the pipeline, the Reserve at Quiet Waters may sail away from the debate unchanged since the city had already approved it before discussion began on forest conservation. That development is currently being appealed by neighboring residents. Crystal Spring, however, is still in the planning stage and may be subject to changes.